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Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (19:20):  Deputy Speaker Coulton, can I begin by recognising your 10-year service in this place as the member for Parkes, because this year marks my 10 years in the place as the member for Gippsland. As I look back on those years—and I’m sure you feel the same way, Deputy Speaker—I wonder where they’ve all gone. But as I reflected coming up here today, there have been plenty of good times in my electorate of Gippsland in that time, and some pretty tough times as well, and many achievements that I’m enormously proud of. The resilience of Gippslanders has shone through some of those very tough times. We endured the Black Saturday bushfires. We’ve seen floods and we’ve seen droughts. In some small way, my own resilience was tested prior to Christmas with the ministerial reshuffle.

I got into politics, as I know you did, Deputy Speaker, and I think all members did, to make a difference in my community. It was an enormous honour and privilege to serve in the cabinet. I regard the infrastructure and transport portfolio as the best portfolio to be involved in. Over the past two years I was very fortunate to be part of a project and some policy decisions which will change peoples’ lives and will save peoples’ lives across our nation. I’m proud of the work that my team did over that period of time and I’m sorry that we won’t get to finish some of the jobs we started, but I’m very confident that the government will continue to deliver that extensive program of works that we’ve undertaken.

I’m looking forward to continuing to serve the people of Gippsland with all the passion I can muster and enthusiasm and determination for many years to come, perhaps for as long as they can put up with me. I do intend to continue to be an outspoken advocate in relation to road safety, and I’ll be working to secure additional funding for regional roads, which I believe is part of the problem and certainly part of the solution to reducing road trauma in our regional communities. I’ll certainly be very active in regional policy development, with a focus on helping young people achieve their full potential. I’ll be working with the new minister, Minister John McVeigh—I congratulate him on his appointment—to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help regional towns prosper into the future. We need better connectivity for regional towns and we need a fairer share of infrastructure investment to boost jobs and improve the prosperity of our regional communities. As a backbencher, I believe I’ll also have more time to focus on two social policy areas that I’m particularly interested in and which concern me deeply. They are the use of illicit substances, such as ice, and the incidence of suicide in regional areas, particularly amongst young people and Defence Force veterans.

In making these few comments here this evening, I want to put on record my personal and professional thanks for the efforts of my staff and the department, particularly Mike Mrdak, the secretary of the department for the majority of the that time I was in the role, but also, in recent times, Steve Kennedy, for the work he did in support of me and my ministerial staff. Our staff in this building put in enormous hours. I was lucky to be served by so many hardworking professional people, mainly young people. They put in an enormous number of hours and I respect them and thank them for their efforts.
My focus tonight is to talk about the future and to recognise some of the achievements in my electorate of Gippsland over the past 10 years and also to reflect on where we’re going as a region. I had a lot of time over the break to travel around Gippsland. It’s only 35,000 square kilometres. I know that’s a mere postage stamp compared with the electorate of Parkes! I had the chance to drive around and one of the things I couldn’t help but notice was the amount of road works underway in my community. There’s been some record road funding in Gippsland in recent times. We’ve worked very closely with the state government to see better, safer roads delivered in the region. The Princes Highway duplication project is one that I’m particularly proud of. It involved $260 million of funding—a mixture of state and federal funding. I believe in giving credit where it’s due. It’s one of those projects that have received funding from both sides of the chamber, from the Labor Party when it was in government and now the Liberal-Nationals in government, and also at state level from both Labor and coalition governments.

I also had the opportunity to see the progress on the $50 million worth of work underway on the Princes Highway East. I want to do a lot more work on the Princes Highway in my continuing role as the member for Gippsland, working with my colleagues the member for Eden-Monaro, the member for McMillan, the member for Wannon, the member for Corio, the member for Corangamite and the member for Barker, on the Princes Highway itself.

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